After nine months, we still know masks don’t work

ANALYSIS

BY LEN CABRERA

After nine months, we still know masks don’t work

Recently we highlighted an article by UF researchers that showed asymptomatic and presymptomatic spread of COVID-19 in households is essentially zero (0.7 ± 4.2 percent secondary attack rate). This result is important because potential asymptomatic spread was the basis for mask mandates across the country. Despite all the models and theories used to support non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI), real-world evidence continues to show that these NPIs (mask mandates, lockdowns, etc.) are not effective.

Prior to COVID-19, the CDC’s Community Mitigation Guidelines to Prevent Pandemic Influenza (2017) said, “CDC does not routinely recommend the use of face masks by well persons in the home or other community settings as a means of avoiding infection” (p15). The document specifically talked about disposable surgical, medical, or dental procedure masks, not random cloth face masks. The document said that persons at high risk of complications (of flu) or who are caring for ill family members should wear masks but said, “little evidence supports the use of face masks by well persons in community settings” (p14).

In a January 28, 2020 press conference, Dr. Anthony Fauci said, “In all the history of respiratory-borne viruses of any type, asymptomatic transmission has never been the driver of outbreaks. The driver of outbreaks is always a symptomatic person. Even if there’s a rare asymptomatic person that might transmit, an epidemic is not driven by asymptomatic carriers.” 

Even as late as April 6, the WHO’s guidelines said members of the general public “only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with COVID-19” or “if you are coughing or sneezing.”

But COVID-19 was a “novel” (new) virus, so public health agencies tossed out all previous guidance on dealing with viruses. The WHO guidelines changed on June 5: “governments should encourage the general public to wear masks in specific situations and settings as part of a comprehensive approach to suppress SARS-CoV-2 transmission.” The stated reason for the change in guidance was that potential asymptomatic transmission from the new virus required universal mask mandates to maybe slow the spread.

Bureaucracies move slowly, even when propagating a narrative, so the June 5 WHO guidance also said:

  • “There is limited evidence that wearing a medical mask by healthy individuals in households… or among attendees of mass gatherings may be beneficial as a measure preventing transmission.”
  • “cluster randomized controlled trials… showed no impact on risk of laboratory-confirmed influenza.”
  • “There is no direct evidence (from studies on COVID-19 and in healthy people in the community) on the effectiveness of universal masking of healthy people in the community to prevent infection with respiratory viruses, including COVID-19.”
  • “At the present time, the widespread use of masks by healthy people in the community setting is not yet supported by high quality or direct scientific evidence and there are potential benefits and harms to consider.”

Early evidence already suggested there was not much asymptomatic spread from COVID-19. In a press conference in Geneva (video posted by Bloomberg on June 8), Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the WHO’s Emerging Diseases and Zoonosis Unit, was asked, “What proportion of asymptomatic people actually transmit?” (1:15 in video)

Her answer: “We have a number of reports from countries that are doing very detailed contact tracing. They’re following asymptomatic cases. They’re following contacts, and they’re not finding secondary transmission onward. It’s very rare” (1:33 in video). “It still appears to be rare that an asymptomatic individual actually transmits onward” (2:09 in video).

That information would undermine the new direction in mask policy, so Dr. Anthony Fauci went on Good Morning America to claim that Dr. Van Kerkhove’s statement was false “because there’s no evidence to indicate that’s the case”; he went on to claim that epidemiological studies show asymptomatic people can transmit SARS-CoV-2 “even when they are without symptoms.” He didn’t say if those studies looked at actual data or were based on models, like the studies that claim masks work by assuming they reduce transmissibility by 50%. (Read all about masks in my June 30 review of medical literature.)

Dr. Van Kerkhove quickly retracted her statement, saying, “I was responding to a question at the press conference. I wasn’t stating a policy of WHO or anything like that. I was just trying to articulate what we know.” That sums up the COVID era: “what we know” often tends to conflict with what we’re told.

That was months ago, and now we have even more data on this “novel” coronavirus. Now we know asymptomatic spread is rare, thanks to UF researchers and others. We also know that PCR tests are counter-productive because they are too sensitive and result in many false positives (even acknowledged by The Spectator and The New York Times). The tests are so bad that a Portuguese court said people cannot be quarantined only because of a positive PCR test.

We also know the mortality rate is very low for a vast majority of the population. Even the most vulnerable 70+ age group has close to a 95% chance of surviving COVID-19. The CDC’s age-stratified “current best estimate” for the infection fatality rate is:

  • 0-19 years: 0.003%
  • 20-49 years: 0.02%
  • 50-69 years: 0.5%
  • 70+ years: 5.4%

Yet governors double down on ineffective and unnecessary NPIs, and the Bill of Rights continues to be superseded by emergency orders. Scott Morefield wrote in TownHall about a Rational Ground analysis showing that masks do not work to stop the spread of COVID-19. The analysis compared states with and without mask mandates and found higher average cases per 100,000 population in states with mask mandates.

Many will claim to find fault with such a result because the aggregate analysis lacks nuance. They’ll argue that the states with mask mandates are geographically different, or they have more dense populations, or they already had higher infection rates, or (the favorite unverifiable claim) cases in those states would have been even higher without the masks. To preempt those arguments, the Rational Ground analysis also looked at individual counties within a single state: Florida.

22 of Florida’s 67 counties have a mask mandate. Between May 1 and December 15, there is essentially no difference in population-adjusted cases between masked and unmasked counties: 23 vs 22 cases per 100,000 population. (NOTE: For areas with a mask mandate, the study started counting cases 14 days after the mandate went into effect.)

Further, of the 20 counties that implemented a mask mandate after May 1 (so we have data with and without a mandate), only 3 had a reduction in average daily cases. (We used the same 14-day window after the mandate to give it time to have an effect.) When restricting the analysis to these 20 counties, it’s no longer a wash. Average cases per 100,000 population per day are higher with the mandate than without: 22 vs. 15.

Let’s consider two neighboring counties: Alachua (with a mask mandate since May 4) and Marion (with no mandate). Using cases for May 18 to December 15 (allowing 14 days for the Alachua mandate to have an effect on cases), the average cases per 100,000 population per day were 24 for Alachua and 19 for Marion. During that period of time, daily cases per 100,000 population in Alachua County exceeded those in Marion County for 137 of the 212 days (65%). (NOTE: Updating the study period from May 18 to January 8, using the January 9, 2021 case line data, Alachua County still leads Marion County in average daily cases per 100,000 population: 27 to 23.)

This result isn’t unique. Ian Miller posts charts on RationalGround.com and Twitter (@ianmSC). He has a graph showing that daily cases for Florida counties without mask mandates have been lower than counties with mandates since October 15 (Florida moved to Phase 3 reopening on September 25).

His graphs often show that cases and hospitalizations are similar between neighboring states, regardless of masking orders. 

Here’s another example of charts showing similar daily cases by region

This data isn’t surprising to people who paid attention at the start of the pandemic when, seemingly overnight, all public health organizations changed long-standing positions on mask use. The data clearly show that NPIs, especially mask mandates, do not work. The fact that politicians continue to push them shows that they rely on ignorance and compliance to abuse their authority.

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